School Boards in Action: 5 Questions with Linda Porras, Desert Sands USD

Linda Porras, board president, Desert Sands Unified School District in Riverside County

With the school year well underway, what are some promising practices taking place in your district?

The DSUSD Integrated School-Based Mental Health Wellness model prioritizes student mental health by embedding wellness practices in the school setting to promote success for students in and out of the classroom. Objectives include deliberate action to create a multidisciplinary team at school sites to develop and establish an integrated framework of educational, social-emotional and behavioral health support for every student, enhance mental health literacy, and reduce stigma and other barriers to accessing mental health services. The board continues to support innovative mental health focused initiatives such as expansion of mental health staffing and commit district resources to prioritize mental health as aligned with the district mission, “To inspire and nurture every student … one opportunity at a time.”

What are your district’s plans for learning recovery and academic acceleration this summer?

DSUSD will offer summer programs at each grade level available to specifically identified students. At the elementary level, students are identified through our universal diagnostic tool and are invited into summer programs that will last three weeks and will include curriculum in areas of need including mathematics, English language arts and English language development. The programs offered are customized to meet the learning needs of the identified students at each elementary school site. At the middle school level, students are also identified through our universal diagnostic tool. Middle school programs will focus on supporting math, science, and English language arts to address the needs of the identified students. With the expansion of expanded learning opportunities, following each elementary and middle school academic program, opportunities will exist for each school to extend the day through our outside organizations who will provide enrichment.

High school curriculum includes both credit recovery and grade validation. In addition, counselors will identify students in need of validating a course to lift a D grade to a C or better to meet the A-G criteria. Additional summer programs will be provided for migrant students that will be scheduled after the traditional summer program so that there are no scheduling conflicts and students will have access to both opportunities. To address the needs of special education students, an extended school year program is available to all students K-12 and will run concurrently with each school-level program, meeting the needs of students’ individualized education programs (IEPs).

What are some ways the district is sharing positive news and/or support with families and the community?

Desert Sands USD embraces every avenue for the sharing of information to our families and communities. We use the traditional method of calling home but expand our reach via email and text messaging. We use the ecologically sound method of sharing digital flyers with our families and staff through PeachJar, making it easy for our families to receive frequent notices of upcoming events. Our website and mobile app are up to date and created with a call-to-action format that not only provides information, but draws family and community members into our world.

While the long-used method of press releases to local press remains a part of our communications mix, we also use multiple social media platforms for a greater reach into the community. Positive stories are shared with the media and can be found on our homepage. Our newest tool is video, and we have added a part-time videographer and editor to our staff. In a recent presentation to the California School Public Relations Association, we received numerous comments about the quality of our messaging, especially videography and photography, and were delighted to share that our communications team is an in-house group with a wide variety of field experience. As a board member, I am very proud to say that I know each member of the team. They welcome comments from the board and I know that I can discuss board ideas for future communications with this team that reports directly to the superintendent.

What is one thing you’d most like to accomplish during your time as a trustee and why?

I became a board member because I wanted to support the children in our community to have every opportunity for the best education we have to offer. To me, this includes supporting parents to have the tools for their children, and to support our teachers and staff because we all play a significant role as a whole for students to succeed in their future. With a primarily new board, my desire is to lead our board in developing a strong governance mindset so we can do our best work for students.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time I love to dance, go for walks with Gus, our little dog, lift weights, ride on my Peloton, read, meditate and talk with family and friends, in addition to spending time with my grandsons, Rockwell (6) and Xavier (15 months).

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.